070707: Ten years on and the struggle against homophobic hate crimes continues

On July 7 2007 two lesbian *womxn – Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Masooa were murdered in Meadowlands, Soweto. This was not the first hate crime targeting black lesbian womxn in South Africa; the ongoing crisis of violence was well known to activists who had been witnessing a disturbing upswing of cases preceding the brutal killings. The case did however spark uproar among both the LGBTIQ community and the broader population. Whether it was the extensive press coverage, the international attention or the fact that Sigasa was a well-known and respected activist, this case saw a demand for civil society mobilisation and state response. ActionAid’s Emily Craven remembers some of the battles fought by activists over the last decade.

The 07-07-07 Campaign was borne out of this uproar with the tagline “Act to end hate”. As the newly appointed convenor of the Joint Working Group (JWG) — a network of LGBTIQ organisations in South Africa, I found myself at the centre of this work. It was a time of conflicting and confusing emotions, deep grief and anger but also hope and inspiration. In the following months sub-committees were set up to deal with legal issues, political education, mass mobilisation and media. Everyone was keen; it felt like a moment of change and action, a moment in which womxn were going to say enough is enough and demand change.

However, as months passed with no progress on the Meadowlands case, with media attention dwindling, the campaign itself began to dissolve. It was not that people cared less, but in the rush of daily civil society organising, donor reporting, proposal writing and other obligations, the campaign slipped from the priority list of many involved. For approximately 18 months, committed activists kept the campaign alive, but eventually it disappeared. Although Sigasa and Masooa’s case has never been forgotten and is regularly followed up on, a decade later no one has been arrested for their murders.

We should not write off the achievements of the 07-07-07 Campaign: it directly contributed to the first stirrings of key developments: critiques of racist and exclusionary pride parades; forcing courts to acknowledge homophobia as a motive in the murders of lesbian womxn; and the creation of the National Task Team on LGBTIQ Hate Crimes. It also brought the rights of LGBTIQ people into the public spotlight, starting conversations that are ongoing to this day. It forced into our social consciousness the jarring contradiction between the legislative framework and the lived realities of the vast majority of queer South Africans.

Importantly, the campaign also sought to firmly place the violence faced by lesbian womxn within the context of a country with pandemic levels of gender based violence. It emphasised the importance of intersectionality in understanding why poor, black, lesbian womxn are overwhelmingly the victims of violence and in doing so, rejected terms like ‘corrective rape’ and the involvement of so-called LGBTIQ activists who did not give a damn about how black lesbian womxn lived or died, but wanted to claim some kind of communal grief and score political points.

And yet we cannot escape the truth: in spite of the campaign’s achievement, the violence and hate did not stop. The names come easily to those of us who worked in this sector during those years: Eudy, Thokozane, Gugu, Noxolo and Smous, to name just a few. These womxn so brutally murdered represent only the tip of the iceberg of rape, assault, abuse and discrimination that has been experienced thousands of people. It is easy to become despondent as an activist when you consider ten years of commitment and passion from so many amazing people apparently making so little difference. I felt deeply despondent earlier this year when in May, news of the murder of a young lesbian womxn in Soweto made the headlines: Lerato Moloi was killed in Naledi, just 10km from where Sizakele and Salome were murdered almost a decade earlier.

It was a poignant and deeply saddening connection for me and many others who were around at the formation of the 07-07-07 Campaign. There was also another parallel between the two cases: like the Meadowlands murders, this one received a huge amount of media attention coming as it did in the middle of a terrifying spate of murders of womxn in South Africa, including four in Soweto alone over the course of a few days. As in 2007, there was an outcry from across the country, this time far bigger. Both mainstream and social media were abuzz with an outpouring of grief and anger. #MenAreTrash was trending and everyone wanted to do something.

In the aftermath, a series of meetings, mobilisations and a call to action took place, out of which a new group has formed, called Sizimbokodo. The group has been trying to think about innovative and inclusive ways to harness and sustain the mass outcry and demands for real transformative change in society, and to put an end to the seemingly endless violence and violation of womxn in South Africa.

As in 2007, my emotions are all over the place: sad, angry, inspired and anxious. Will this new collective go the way of the 07-07-07 Campaign? Already the hundreds of people who came to the initial meetings are down to a committed few; already the day-to-day of doing our jobs is straining our ability to commit time and resources. Yet, something does feel different – there is a sense of long term commitment, a creation of a space where hard conversations are had, where everyone commits what they can and we hold one another accountable in a space of love and solidarity that makes me feel very hopeful. Ultimately I think I have to keep believing in our ability to change the world – the alternative seems too awful to contemplate.

So today, on 7 July 2017, I look both back and forward. I remember Sizakele and Salome, whose tragic murders saw no justice, but brought national attention to hate crimes, sparking a campaign and inspiring a decade of activism. I look forward to Sizimbokodo, to new activism, young leaders, fresh ideas and renewed determination. I honour everyone between these two moments: the comrades, sisters and friends, many of whom were there ten years ago and who are here today, those who have never stopped fighting for a better future.

*Womxn is becoming an increasingly common spelling of the word to avoid using the suffix “man” and “men.” This spelling also signifies inclusivity of the LGBTIAQ+ community.

Emily Craven is the head of programmes at ActionAid South Africa. Follow ActionAid South Africa (AASA) on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. AASA is a member of ActionAid International, a global movement of people working together to further human rights and eradicate poverty.

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Featured image via Wikimedia Commons